The Mask Wars of the 1918 Flu Pandemic versus Those of Today

“Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” ― George S. Patton”

Our ancestors lived through the worldwide 1918 Flu Pandemic and found many similarities to today’s Covid-19 pandemic. The phrase “social distancing” didn’t exist in 1918 but everyone quickly learned to avoid the enclosed public spaces, such as churches and movie theaters.

The 39th Infantry Regiment marches through downtown Seattle in 1918, donned in masks, on their way to be deployed in France. (National Archives)

In many ways, the 1918 Flu Pandemic was much worse than today’s worldwide pandemic. For instance, in 1918 through 1920, it was not unusual for someone to wake up in the morning feeling normal, to begin to feel ill around 10 AM, and then to be dead by sundown.

In Seattle, during the influenza’s lockdown period in October and November of 1918, people without masks were banned from public transit and ticketed or fined by members of the police’s masked “Flu Squad.” Headlines had a somewhat negative spin: “Thousands Are Hit with Flu Mask Order,” shouted one in the Seattle Star.

You can read a lot more about the successes and of the (many) failures of actions by the people of 1918 in an article by Knute Berger and published in the Crosscut web site at https://crosscut.com/2020/07/mask-wars-1918-flu-pandemic.

5 Comments

People in public without masks are attempting murder, as well as selfish and ignorant. Without a mask, stay inside and don’t meet the mail carrier.

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    You should comply with whatever instructions are given by the authorities, unless you want to wear one regardless. The truth however is that if you do not wear one you are no threat to anyone else as regards infecting them unless you are asymptomatic or deliberately ignoring the fact that you you have symptoms.
    It is day 119 of lockdown here in England although it is slowly loosening

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The truth is that most people do not know what asymptomatic means.

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    The truth is that many people do not know what the word “percentage” means I worked in a physician’s office several years ago. New patients needed to fill in a form informing what percentage of their pain was in 1) their back 2) their neck 3) their legs. Every day patients would ask me what “percentage” meant.

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Am proud of the Selectboard of my Tourist driven town mandated mask wearing when in the presence of others. A local non-profit provided disposable masks to businesses that are open now in Phase 2. For “local property owners” the public safety dept. distributed 2 masks per home. Cooperation is working

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